BUTTER + EGGS = ART, sometimes

Throughout history, food has served as subject
matter, inspiration, and of course
sustenance for artists. Food has also been the art
on a number of occasions. On today’s “Art Cooking”,
we’re exploring the activities of a group of artists
working in the 1960s and ’70s who believed the stuff of our
everyday lives could be art and that any of
us can be artists. Sometimes it involved food. Fluxus began before
it was given a name. Like this quintessentially
Fluxian instruction piece asking us to light a match
and watch it until it goes out was written by Yoko
Ono in 1955, firmly before the early ’60s
when the name was coined and Ono became associated
with the movement, or nonmovement as its
members prefer it to call it. The late 1950s saw a bubbling
up of alternative art practices in the US and Europe– happenings, experimental
music, and dance. And Fluxus flowed out of that,
not a style but an approach– prompts or event scores like
this one, sometimes funny and often utterly unremarkable. But the man who named the group
was George Maciunas, or Mr. Fluxus as this
book calls him, who emigrated from Lithuania
to the US in 1948 and staged the first official
Fluxus events in 1961 and ’62. We’re going to pretend like
we were invited to contribute to the New Year’s Eve Flux
feast Maciunas organized in New York in 1969. The distribution
list is a veritable who’s who of Fluxus
artists, all asked to participate by
contributing either a food or drink of your own invention
or to make something up from the list below. First on the list
are Flux eggs, which we’re going to give a go,
first emptying out some egg shells per his instructions. He probably didn’t use
this nifty egg topper that’s supposed to
give us a clean cut and make for some
pretty egg shells. It doesn’t work
perfectly for me, so let’s talk about
something else. Maciunas was the group’s
most prominent instigator and evangelist, and he published
a Fluxus manifesto in 1963. The name is derived from
the Latin [LATIN],, to flow, and Maciunas embraced
its association with bodily discharge
and scientific processes. He called to purge the
world of bourgeois sickness and promote a revolutionary
flood and tide in art. He wanted to promote living art,
antiart, promote nonart reality to be grasped by all peoples,
not only critics, dilettantes, and professionals. Maciunas was often the
MC at Fluxus events, but it had a relatively
diverse roster of members and participants. There was Nam June Paik, a
Korean artist who went on to pretty much found video
art; Alison Knowles, whose food work we’re
going to enact later; the concrete poet
Emmett Williams. Of course there’s George
and artist, composer, and classical double
bassist Benjamin Patterson. There was also Charlotte
Moorman, seen here performing a work by Paik;
Ben Vautier, here performing a work by George Brecht,
also involved with Fluxus; Shigeko Kubota first
executed her performance affixing a paint
brush to her underwear and brushing red paint onto
paper at a Fluxus festival in 1965– LaMonte Young; and
of course Yoko Ono, among a number of
others, many of whom were present for the New
Year’s Eve feast at hand. Speaking of, we’re
to fill our shells with any of a list of materials,
the first of which is plaster. This doesn’t seem
quite right, so we’re going to go ahead and rename
ours after Maciunas’s home country and mix it up per the
box instructions, or roughly so, pouring it in our first
egg shell and letting it dry. Next step is
urethane foam, which you can buy or
secretly steal a bit from a cushion in your house. After that, liquid white glue. Yeah, this doesn’t
look right either. There we go. Now would be a good time to
mention that us and others saw the group as being a kind
of contemporary expression of Dada. Like Dada, Fluxus rejected the
status quo, upsetting norms and their focus on
humble, everyday objects, presenting them in unexpected
places and in unexpected ways. And last up, some white paint. Other items on his list are ink,
water, white gelatin, coffee, bad smell, good smell, dead bug,
and the all important category of et cetera. So you can really take this in
whatever direction you wish– Clearly inedible, but also
delightfully confounding. Artists at the time
were turning away from the drama and
self-seriousness of abstract expressionism. Fluxus had a sense
of humor, and as you should be able to
tell by now, was not about the individual artist
but about group practice, a more democratic
form of art open to anyone who could
follow some instructions. Like I too can make
Fluxus art happen by following Maciunas’s
tea variations, also on the New
Year’s Eve menu, which can be made from boiling wood
or rope or leather or wool or paper. We’ve found some
jute rope that we thought would do well for this
and are going to simply steep it with some boiling
water, letting it sit there for a while. Because we should probably
make something edible, we’re also going to try
one of the monocolor meals on the list. And we’ve chosen the black meal,
contributed by Bici Hendricks, who now goes by the
name Nye Ffarrrabas. First we gather
ingredients that we perceive as black, like
these grapes and black beans. I’ve invited a friend by the
way, the artist Lauren Zoll who contributed
the assignment off and who also happens to be
doing a project where she’s harvesting ink from
black beans and fruits to make solar panels
that mimic photosynthesis and create detectable
amounts of electrical energy. But we also have black sesame
seeds and ripe mulberries, black race, and nori or
dried seaweed, black coffee, and dark chocolate,
which doesn’t end up looking very black at all. We’ve also got some black-bean
juice and mulberry juice from Lauren’s project along with
blackstrap molasses and hoisin sauce. Then we set about making some
dishes from our ingredients. I’m going to try making some
black sushi, a little rice, some berries, some grapes,
a little hoisin sauce, and then I’ll do a
super amateurish job of wrapping this up. Apologies to any sushi
chefs in the audience, but I have my untrained
amateur rep to protect. Then we’ll dip into our
sesame seeds and set aside. While I make some
more sushi, Lauren is going to attempt some
black-bean foam, working from her black-bean
juice, some mulberries, maybe throw in a little
black rice for some starch, a little cream, and we’re
going to shake it up in a whip-cream dispenser. Might as well shake the camera
a little too while we’re at it. And whoa, out it comes. We’re pleased with our test,
so we add it to our plate, making a handsome pool of
our foam around the sushi. Let’s garnish with some
more grapes and berries and black beans. And behold, a black
meal, which of course demonstrates clearly that
black is never really black– OK, OK, except for maybe Anish
Kapoor’s precious Vantablack. But we see purple and gray
and green and brown and red. And you know, it’s not
half bad, a little sweet and a little savory
with the funky fishiness of the nori and
complexity of the hoisin and beaniness of the foam. We didn’t fight over
the remaining pieces, but all in all a success. Other Hendricks suggestions
for monocolor meals are blue, red, or
green, which I really hope you’ll all do and
share photos with us online with the hashtag
#TheArtAssignment. This, I’m sure, looks
nothing like the black meal that took place at
the original event as 1969 turned into 1970 at
Jonas Mekas’s Cinematheque at 80 Worcester Street in New
York, but that’s the point. A simple prompt can lead in
any number of directions. And shoot, Lauren escaped before
we could share our jute tea. Say that 10 times fast. Sorry, Mark, it’s going
to be just the two of us. Wow, this stuff is pungent. We’re not going to
actually drink it because we’re not
sure it’s safe, but the aroma is overwhelmingly
earthy and sharp and ropey. Since we’ve got
some leftover eggs– oh hey man, how’s it going– we might as well
enact this event score by Fluxus artistic Dick Higgins
titled “Danger Music Number 15” from 1962. It reads, “Work with eggs
and butter for a time.” In case you’re vegan
or don’t have any eggs, here are “Danger Music Number
17” and “Danger Music 24” for your consideration. But let’s get started. In the late ’50s,
Higgins studied at the New School of
Social Research in New York with composer John Cage, who
had a huge influence on Higgins and many others. Cage allowed and embrace
chance as a part of his work, like Higgins does here,
leaving a lot of room for interpretation. What does work mean
and how long is a time? Improvisation was assumed
in the event scores produced by Fluxus artists. They’re instructions that, when
followed, produce an artwork. Like Philip Corner’s
event score for piano activities doesn’t give
the exact direction to destroy a piano and auction
its pieces to the audience, but that’s precisely what
happened when it was performed at a Fluxus festival in 1962. Musical instruments
had the potential to generate sounds and
experiences in many more ways than in their
traditional deployment. Fluxus was deeply rooted
in experimental music but also in philosophy,
literature, theater, and poetry. Higgins called this kind
of art intermediate, occupying the
uncharted land that lies between the categories
generally assigned in the arts. Anyway, a newspaper account of
Higgins performing this work tells us that he smashed
some of the eggs on his head, tossed some of them
in the air, and handed over some of the mixture
to members of the audience. So here you go. The final course of
our Flux feast today is going to be Alison Knowles’
identical lunch, which she dictates is a
tuna-fish sandwich on wheat toast with lettuce and butter,
no mayo, and a cup of soup or a glass of buttermilk. So in the late 1960s, Knowles
would often go to lunch at the Riss diner near the home
she shared with other Fluxus artists, including
Dick Higgins who was her husband at the time. Side note, they
divorced in 1970, but they didn’t have a
flux divorce like Jeffrey and Bici Hendricks had in 1971. Anyhow, her friend Philip
Corner of piano activities fame noticed she ate the
same thing every day, and then she decided to make
a kind of performance of it. She invited friends to
join her and asked others to try the same lunch wherever
they were and write about it. Corner did his own
version, steadily working through the entire
Riss menu, item by item. I went ahead and made
my tuna salad off screen because I really think it’s
something that should only happen in private. And let’s be real, it couldn’t
have been anything other than iceberg lettuce. And there we are,
tuna-fish sandwiches. We pour our glasses
of buttermilk and dig into our perfectly
edible identical lunch. Our two sandwiches may be
functionally identical, but they certainly aren’t
identical to any tuna fish sandwich Knowles
has ever had nor any that you would make if you
set out to do the same. This type of performance
required no audience. It happened whether or not
she was alone or with others, whether she did it
or other people. Knowles made a book
about the project in 1971 with one of the best quotes
ever included in an art book by Corner’s aunt. “What’s there to write about? It’s just a lousy
tuna-fish sandwich.” But that’s the thing. This meager sandwich
not only demonstrates the impossibility that
anything can ever be identical but also that there’s
something to be said for the often-overlooked
activities of our daily lives, the performances we enact
and put on each day, whether or not
we’re aware of them. Knowles said about it, “It was
about having an excuse to get to talk to people, to
notice everything that happened, to pay attention.” That was lovely, but now we
must confront George Maciunas’s variation on the lunch,
which unfortunately requires me to put the entire meal into
a blender, blend until smooth, and drink it. Gah Maciunas, you had to
go and make it unpalatable, didn’t you? We made another sandwich
for this purpose and are following his
instructions to a T, although desperately
searching for a loophole that will allow us to
escape our fate, but there doesn’t seem to be
any vagueness in this prompt. The artists involved
in Fluxus were immensely talented in the
skill of taking the magic out of art, taking
the ego out of it. Most of what’s
left of Fluxus are printed pieces of
paper and photographs, because that’s all
it was really– event scores, instructions,
kits, and publications, inexpensive to produce and
distribute and to purchase. They took apart what
it was to be an artist and what kind of
work it required, not about feeling but doing. And do it we did. It’s been argued that
Fluxus came to an end when Maciunas died in 1978 from
pancreatic cancer, after which there was a Flux
feast and wake where guests ate foods that were
only black, white, or purple. But there’s no real
clarity about when it ended or even if it did. Fluxus was never a finite
movement but a loose network of artists working
among and between media, united by core values. In one sense, all
of their works were recipes able to be carried
out by anyone, anywhere, and with the potential to
unfold in any number of ways. If you like our show, subscribe. And if you’d like
to support our show, head over to
pateron.com/artassignment. Many thanks to Indianapolis
Homes Realty and all of our patrons for supporting
“The Art Assignment”.

local_offerevent_note October 1, 2019

account_box Matthew Anderson

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